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Ain't No Mountain High Enough
I know, I know. I promised The Day After Tomorrow. It's coming this week, I'm guaranteeing it. Meanwhile, the intriguing Miss Jones sent me her thoughts on Tony Minghella's Cold Mountain adaptation. I have a serious love/hate relationship with his work. I just hope it's not another English Patient. I'm working on some big things for the column. I don't want to spoil any surprises but my review of The Day After Tomorrow is only the tip of the iceberg...
Cold Mountain Script Review
"Cold Mountain is like its anteceding novel by Charles Frazier in at least one respect. It too drags you for miles through excessive blood and gore for the sake of a mildly satisfactory ending. Nicole Kidman, who will play the lead actress Ada, called the script 'beautifully written.' It is undoubtedly that as screenwriter/director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) describes characters, wars, adventures, and scenery ad nauseam with vivid picturesque detail and ten-dollar words. The script is also the equivalent of a short novel, and quite frankly, a journey in itself to get through. As history has taught, don't watch the movie expecting a blow-by-blow rendition of the National Book Award winning novel. Characters are modified, characters are taken out, scenes are modified, and scenes are taken out. In other words, do expect to hear people complaining about how the movie strays from the American classic. Minghella does, however, manage to capture very well in approximately 120 minutes the book’s character building Homeric odysseys, Ada’s two-dimensional adventure with self, and its’ morbid melancholy mood.
Set in a mid-19th century North Carolina, Cold Mountain follows the lives of a Confederate soldier deserter, W.P. Inman (Jude Law), and a once wealthy minister’s daughter, Ada Monroe. The two supposedly fall in love at first sight and share one kiss before Inman has to enlist in the military. The love or, more accurately, longing they have for each other is denied for a time because of Inman’s prolonged absence. While he is physically in the war, he wants desperately to get away and experience nature, which he does vicariously through William Bartram’s book, Travels. This obviously doesn't satisfy because before too long, Inman is leaving footprints in the sand (literally) in search of his own travels. In the meantime, Ada’s father dies leaving her all by her lonesome with a plantation to take of. The securities in his name are worthless, and their slaves had their home burned down. The only tools that Ada has are literacy, recitation of impractical facts, and a gift to speak a dead language, Latin. She’s a more intellectual Scarlett O’Hara, in a sense.
Here I must say: While I sympathize with the Ada’s plight, the slave family’s home that burned down and the situation of other slaves during this period sat at the forefront of my mind in comparison to Ada’s hardships. Bottom line, can't quite feel sorry for Ada folks. I wished her well, but really, when was she going to take some initiative here? When the crows began to peck at her skull?
So, out of nowhere, a woman having a battered past but big heart and useful hands comes to Ada’s rescue. This woman, Ruby (Renee Zelwegger), also saves the day for this script which was becoming drab around this time. Alongside her divine presence, she brings a big ball of laughter via her coined southern phrases and blunt way of dealing with people and situations. The script also begins to deal more seriously with a group of Home Guardsmen who, in this instance, use their job of tracking down Confederate deserters as an excuse to ruthlessly murder and torment wrongdoers and the innocent alike. One of these Home Guardsmen, Bosie, is responsible for Inman’s ultimate death. I assumed the final fight would have been between Inman and the leader of the Home Guardsmen, Teague, but no. Inman’s killer was a self-described ‘confident youth’ (I'm not sure whether that qualifies as a proper hero’s death, but nevertheless, one which we'll have to accept). While running away from men like Teague, Inman runs into a lascivious and murder-attempting minister who it so desperately hurts to like. Still, there is a nice portion of script devoted to his complicated character, so it is quite hard not to have developed some type of affection for him, even if regretfully so. Later, Inman meets a man, Junior, with whom he helps dismember a buffalo in a river. We meet an utterly depressed and helpless widowed mother who is thrown into the mix most likely to represent other widowed women common around this time. And, finally, Inman meets an old wise woman who kindly strokes a deer before slitting its throat. She also nurses him back to partial health and generously gives him, what other than, deer meat before he sets out once again. Those are the more notable people out of the pool of unusually generous bed and breakfast givers Inman meets on his journey.
The final five pages of the script behold everything that we wanted to know back around page 30 or so. That is, Inman and Ada do conveniently find each other. They have an intimate night in which they marry each other by saying ‘I marry you’ three times. Before doing so, though, they plan a life together only to culminate in Inman’s death. Miraculously, Ada has a daughter, Grace Inman, thanks to that one night with Inman.
So, was reading 117 pages of adventure and superficial romance worth it in the end? Not really.
Honestly, this script frustrated me beyond belief. I seriously pondered whether I should stop reading it all together. Basically, I threw my hands in the air and just had to ask, ‘what in the hell is going to happen here... damn it?!?’ While that could be interpreted as a sign of an incredibly adhesive script, it also worked to its disadvantage in shaping my point of view. Because of that profound curiosity/frustration... and Ruby, I did press onward. It took three days of picking it up and putting it back down, but I did it. The main source of my frustration: quick alternations between point of view scenes. One, maybe two, minutes are spent inching forward a pretty stagnant subplot with Ruby and Ada, and the next two or three are spent with Inman acting as someone’s unsuspecting hero. Leaving an entertaining Ruby in exchange for a depressing and downright homogeneous lineup of adventures became tiresome. Ada and Inman are the main characters, but why are they so boring and linearly developed? Other than Ada being a rich girl who learns to farm and Inman as a do-gooder and skilled gunman, there is not much else to learn about them.
As for their romance, even Disney has better fall in love at first sight episodes than this one. Inman and Ada’s interaction with each other is enough to just barely say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’, but we're somehow led to believe that the piercing gazes they share hold within them much more, say, one’s in depth understanding of the other. An exotic breed of lust this could be or even, philosophically speaking, a dependence existing only because there was no one else to take away the thought of the other. In either case, hardly an attraction warranting the strength that it was given.
In conclusion, the driving force of this script and book, for that matter, lies primarily in the vast array of characters Inman meets on his journey. They add a depth to the story that the leading characters are, unfortunately, unable to provide on their own. Ruby’s own unexpected growth in softening her once callous emotions towards her father, Stobord, is always a heartening character sequence to revisit and exercised especially well with Ruby. The bloody scenes are also sure to lock a few heads in place, as blood sells or at least provokes interest these days. Even having considered all of the above, if I do decide to see this movie in 2003, I will do so because of the promise of breathtaking landscape I wish to experience visually. Save the plot."
- This has been a Miss Jones production.
That's all folks...
Jean-François Allaire (aka DeadPool)
Questions, comments, praise etc. Email me at email@example.com
Jean-François Allaire is TNMC's first columnist. At only 24 years old he has become a respected entertainment journalist, with his columns appearing in Corona's Coming Attractions and Scr(i)pt magazine. He also writes a monthly column in Screenwriters Monthly entitled 'The Last Word.' Hailing from Montreal this young writer is determined to dig up all the details on the movies before they hit your local theater. If you're part of a movie production then you really need to be talking to him.